What Churches Can Learn from Montreal


Fresh Fruit at a Montreal Farmers Market, Quebec, Canada

Fresh fruit at a Montreal farmers market © Dan Moore/iStockphoto

by Donna Sinclair

This week I was in Montreal, one of my favourite cities in the universe. Big trees, planted along all the streets and even around the parking lots. Lots of parks.  Imaginative boulevard plantings in the summer. Tobogganing on Mount Royal in the winter, which more than compensates for salty snow-covered streets and venerable crumbling bridges.

Kind shopkeepers who allow you to pretend you speak French (one of my favourite things to do) even though you really, really don’t.

Oh, and markets, sprawling old markets where you can get fresh flowers and pumpkins, wreaths and greenery (all depending on the season) heritage vegetables and smelly cheeses and croissants and chocolate and coffee. Coffee. You can sit and read your Globe like an unreformed Anglo and drink your superb coffee and consider how life is beautiful.

Which is my point. Once, my husband and I were in Montreal in the middle of a family crisis. We lived into the event, doggedly working our way through it, day after day. It was a difficult time, made harder by the way it went on and on.

And then, one mid-week evening, we simply threw up our hands and went out to a pub for dinner. The place was jammed, even though the weekend was a few days away. Everyone was talking and laughing and gesturing and laughing some more, and eating and drinking and listening and talking. In both official languages. It was noisy and breathtakingly alive.

Dazed, we looked around. People have lives. Life returns. The human spirit is resilient. We would recover. (Time went by. We did.) That night we ate and drank and talked (in one official language), just one couple among many delighted people. I doubt any of them were getting through life unscathed. But here they were, full of joy in it.

This is how churches should be, overflowing with joy and confidence and contagious love. Some are. And when people find their way to them – even in the midst of one of the many crises that visit all of us – they are reminded of life. They are healed. Other churches, though, get caught in ongoing worry or conflict and everyone doggedly struggles along, just the way Jim and I were doing. Strong of heart, but getting weary.

I’m not sure what the answer is for those anxious congregations. But I think it’s worth trying good food, interesting talk, laughter and lots of it. Even in the middle of the week.

It worked for me.

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